Elmore Leonard has one of the most distinctive voices in American film and television and while you may not recognize his name, you will surely recognize his work. His writing is pure cinema, so it should be no surprise that Leonard’s work served as inspiration for Out of Sight, 3:10 to Yuma, Get Shorty, and Justified. Life of Crime is based on Leonard’s novel The Switch, which is a lesser work, but the story still has the capacity for entertainment. In a slow week of new releases at the theatre, that’s more than enough.
Ordell Robbie (Yasiin Bey, formerly known as Mos Def) and Louis Gara (John Hawkes) get much more than they bargained for after kidnapping the wife of a corrupt real-estate developer (Tim Robbins). As it turns out, Frank Dawson has no intentions of paying the ransom for the well-being of his wife, Mickey (Jennifer Aniston). He had been seeking a way to leave his wife of many years for his mistress (Isla Fisher), and fortunately Ordell and Louis took care of the messiness of actually leaving Mickey for him by kidnapping her.
The saying ‘hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’ is an old one, and is especially true in the case of Aniston’s Mickey. Mickey was oblivious to Frank’s crooked dealings and hidden money in off-shore accounts while they were together, but the gloves are off now. With Frank’s very pissed-off wife on-board there are going to be a few re-configurations for Louis and Ordell’s plans, most of which provoke unseen twists and turns.
While Life of Crime may sound like Danny DeVito comedy Ruthless People, Leonard’s novel was written several years before that film took place. The “Piss-poor extortionists” that Louis and Ordell are, they are also ruthless and the film reminds viewers that either man can be dangerous when the scene calls for it. Ordell and Louis were memorably portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson and Robert De Niro in Quentin Tarantino’s adaptation of Jackie Brown, but the inventive casting of John Hawkes and Bey keep the characters from being overshadowed by previous iterations. Hawkes, as always, does more than is asked of him, and Bey reminds viewers why he made the transition from music to acting. Supporting turns by Will Forte as a perpetual suitor always at the wrong place at the wrong time and Mark Boone Junior as a bumbling Neo-Nazi fill out a strong cast.
Serving as director, Daniel Schechter doesn’t quite utilize enough of his own style in adapting the film. The wardrobe and décor are pure ’70s and no shortage of the film’s humor is derived from the absurdity of the character’s appearances. As tempting as it is to take the material down to its crime thriller roots, a more pronounced effort to focus on the comedic elements may have worked better. With that said, Life of Crime still succeeds at its aims of adapting Leonard’s words and characters, creating a pleasant viewing experience.
— Colin Biggs